Nearly 3 in 4 millennials and Gen Zers are considering changing jobs in the next year because they don’t see career growth or development opportunities in their current role. The cost of filling these positions (in terms of time and resources) would be substantial. If companies want to keep their top emerging talent, leaders must think critically about how to invest in employees.
Employee development plans are a vital component in many growing companies. When done well, employee development plans can accelerate employees’ progress toward their most essential career goals and benefit the organization by boosting performance (and employee retention rates).
These plans can be mutually beneficial. Effective employee development plans can improve the company’s bottom line and communicate to prospective hires that the company cares about workers’ continued growth.
Keep reading to learn more about the components of an employee development plan. You’ll also find a basic template you can customize to meet your organization’s development needs.
What is an employee development plan?
An employee development plan is a collaborative and systematic approach to employee development designed to help professionals grow in their talent and knowledge.
These plans often include short- and long-term business goals with an action plan that employees can follow to accelerate their progress. This plan may also list what training, mentoring, and coaching the employee will participate in to increase their knowledge and skills.
Employee development programs do more than improve performance. They can enhance engagement and increase job satisfaction when done effectively. Companies can decrease turnover and encourage deeper commitment by working on specialized development plans with their employees.
Employee plans might be most beneficial when onboarding new employees or working with team members in new roles. Many companies also use employee development plans during succession planning.
Why is employee development important?
Employee development plans clarify what the individual employee and the company hope will happen. Without confirmed expectations, both sides may lack awareness of where the partnership is headed. Creating an employee development plan defines success for both parties.
Employees can better understand what’s expected of them with a career development plan. Companies can use employee development plans to vocalize what they want employees to achieve or accomplish.
As you think about implementing employee development plans, identify future leaders in your company. Look for potential leaders in each level of your organization, and consider what talent gaps you may need to fill to take your company to the next level.
How to create an effective development plan
Perhaps you’re ready to create an employee development plan but are unsure what to do first. Here are the five steps each company or supervisor should take to build an effective employee development plan.
5 steps for creating an employee development plan:
- Identify areas for development
- Set goals and objectives
- Create a plan for achieving goals
- Establish metrics for measuring progress
- Track implementation of the plan
1. Identify areas for development
One benefit of creating an employee development plan is that you can help team members build new skills in areas where they may lack natural talent or previous experience. To determine these areas, have conversations with employees about where they hope to grow or what they want to learn.
Ideally, these skills align with the company’s primary objectives or the employee’s role. However, several talents apply to a broader range of positions and tasks. Transferable skills include:
- Communication skills. Employees can learn to practice active listening, observe nonverbal communication, and be aware of their conversational tone.
- Leadership skills. Employees may work on managing people, making decisions, and casting a vision for the future.
- Organization skills. Planning, time management, and task prioritization can help employees better approach and complete each task.
- Creativity skills. Building creativity skills can help employees develop new solutions to old problems. They’ll also grow in their ability to collaborate across departments.
- Stress management. Learning how to manage stress can increase employee productivity and boost overall morale.
Some supervisors identify skills to build into the employee development plan by running a skills gap analysis or knowledge audit. Others may use a survey like CliftonStrengths to better understand each employee’s needs.
Feel free to list several potential options during this step. You don’t have to include all of them in the final employee development plan, but you’ll benefit from considering several options. You may also set aside some ideas for the future, even if you don’t implement them into your current plan.
2. Set goals and objectives
The plan’s specific development goals and objectives should be tailored to the individual. The plan will be more successful if it fits the unique talents and skills of the employee.
All goals must be specific, measurable, and realistic for the given time frame. Example goals could include:
- Increasing the number of sales calls by 5% over a certain timeframe
- Completing five assigned training programs each month
- Providing positive feedback to team members three times during each project for the next three months
- Taking on additional managerial responsibilities at the discretion of the supervisor and attending regular meetings to evaluate progress
- Attending a conference or convention related to the employee’s professional interests
Many companies choose to set goals that are SMART:
- Specific. Effective goals clearly state what action the employee will take or what standard they’ll meet.
- Measurable. Think about what metrics you can use to measure the eventual outcome and gauge success. For example, you might track sales calls, positive customer reviews, or classes or seminars attended.
- Actionable. Employees should know what action or step to take to reach the goal. If employees are clear about what to do to pursue their goals, they’re more likely to move forward.
- Relevant. Choose goals that connect with both the organization’s broader goals and the employee’s long-term aspirations. Aligning these two needs creates the win-win scenario that enables effective employee performance plans.
- Time-bound. Set a deadline to increase the urgency to pursue the goal. The goal is not to pressure the employee but to motivate them to take action.
Additional options include facilitating cross-training between various departments to produce more well-rounded employees and forming peer-to-peer mentoring relationships where team members can encourage and challenge each other.
3. Create a plan for achieving goals
Once you choose goals for the employee, it’s time to consider how they will pursue or meet the specified criteria. Think about the goals as a final destination and the plan as a road map that can help them move from where they are now to where they want to be.
For example, say your employee intends to complete five in-depth training modules over the course of six months to improve their overall leadership performance. The plan may involve the following steps:
- The employee identifies 10 to 20 possible leadership training modules. They may ask colleagues for recommendations or research what others find helpful or effective.
- The employee meets with their supervisor to discuss possible training modules and evaluate which options may best serve the employee’s (and the company’s) primary objectives and goals.
- The employee gathers information about training modules, determining if the modules are offered virtually or only in person. They also determine if they can complete modules on demand or during a scheduled time.
- The employee compiles any necessary resources (books, journals, etc.).
- The employee registers for five training modules.
- The employee attends each training module when offered or completes each on-demand training module by a mutually agreed-on date.
- The employee completes any assignments or fieldwork assigned.
- After each module, the employee schedules a follow-up meeting with their supervisor to discuss key takeaways. The employee may also provide specific examples of how they’ll act on their new learning.
- After each month, the employee schedules an additional follow-up meeting to evaluate and assess their progress. The supervisor may gather additional feedback from clients or co-workers to evaluate their effectiveness.
- At the end of the six months, the employee and supervisor get together to discuss how the additional training helped improve their performance and can lead to future leadership opportunities.
Your plan should be as specific as possible. Employees should know what’s expected of them. Encourage team members to ask questions throughout the process to ensure everyone is on the same page.
As you work together on a plan, consider what additional resources or tools can help your employees progress. In the above example, employees may keep a journal or log to track their process. They may also benefit from regularly meeting with a mentor who isn’t their supervisor.
4. Establish metrics for measuring progress
Employees and supervisors can develop Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that reflect progress toward a specific goal. Determine a clear timeline for when the employee should meet their KPIs and create a system to keep track of their progress.
This is similar to the second step of setting SMART goals. The key difference is that when setting SMART goals, you’re looking at the eventual outcome. But here, you need to determine the checkpoints or milestones that represent progress toward that larger goal. In other words, KPIs are individual components of the larger goal rather than the final result.
Example KPIs include:
- New contracts signed by customers
- Frequency of lead engagement
- Average ticket resolution time
- Order fulfillment time
- Monthly website traffic or social media engagement
Setting up ongoing evaluations to review and assess the employee’s progress is also crucial. These performance reviews could include one-on-one meetings, self-assessments, project management tracking, or submitting notes and reflections to a supervisor.
5. Track implementation of the plan
Employees and supervisors should communicate regularly about the progress the employee is making. They can adjust the plan based on what the employee is learning and observing.
Supervisors should also ensure employees have all the necessary resources and support to achieve their goals within the desired time frame.
Some resources that can help include:
- Online or in-person workshops
- Coaching or mentorship
- Networking events
- Webinars, tutorials, or e-courses
- Specific and regular performance feedback
- Conferences and workshops
As you think about what resources may help, ask the employee for their thoughts. This can give you new insight into what tools employees need to perform better and increase employee engagement by increasing their participation in the process.
Employee development plan example
Below this example is a free template for a professional development plan to aid in employee growth. You can customize the information below to meet your business needs and goals.
Employee development plan template
Enhance your employees’ development with help from Upwork
Creating employee development plans can be time-consuming, especially for large teams. But it’s a worthwhile investment that can increase employee satisfaction and overall job performance. Over time, you may observe a noticeable increase in profits, as well as improved morale among your team.
An outside perspective can often enhance employee training and development. Many businesses partner with external consultants who can train or coach their team members. Learn how an Upwork leadership development specialist can help you create effective employee development plans.
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